« PreviousContinue »
FIRST REPRESENTATION OF THE ALLEGORY.
LITERAL, FIGURATIVE, AND SYMBOLICAL LANGUAGE.
The transmission of ideas from one mind to another is made through the medium of signs. Signs are of two kinds : they are simple or complex, direct or indirect. A simple or direct sign is that which stands for the idea to be communicated simply, and which transmits this directly to the mind. The words of language taken in their literal acceptation are signs of this kind. These signs are all constructed upon the basis of a presumed identity subsisting between the sign and the idea to be communicated. Language, to be literally taken, consists of these direct signs.
It is found, however, by experience that signs of this description are altogether incompetent to convey the multitudinous and multiform ideas of the human mind. These may be reckoned in millions; direct signs can at the most be numbered in thousands. Accordingly the mind has devised another expedient
for the transmission of ideas. It presses ideas them selves into the service, and causes one idea to stand for another. Here is a complex or indirect sign, and of these, figurative or ideographic language consists.
To illustrate the mental process at work in the construction of these indirect or complex signs, take the following example: I wish to convey to the mind of a man who had never witnessed the sight, the idea of a ship moving through the water. I feel conscious that there are no direct signs, that is, that language in its literal acceptation is incompetent to transmit the conception from my own mind to his with fulness and fidelity. I find, however, that by the substitution of another idea for the one I would convey, I can accomplish it. I substitute for the idea of a ship moving through the ocean, the idea of a plough moving through a field, and tell him “the ship ploughed the sea.” Through the medium of this indirect sign I convey to him the idea desired with infinitely greater facility and infinitely greater precision than I could have done by any direct sign or by employing any number of them.
Now, in the above instance, the process of mind in the construction of the indirect sign, is a double one; there are two ideas concerned in the operation; there is the idea of the ploughing of the land and the idea of the ploughing of the sea. The sign is thus a complex sign, and the operation which the mind performs in arriving at the thing signified, is a complex operation. The signs of literal language are simple ; of figurative language, double.